As mentioned in my first post, I grew up with exposure to theatre, dance, and music, so I didn’t need to be convinced of the importance of these activities for my own kids. Don’t get me wrong, they have also tried swimming, baseball, golf, basketball, cheerleading and more – I’m a big believer in a well-rounded person. But from our personal experiences, the endeavors that have helped my children the most have been performing arts-related.
Just recently my thirteen-year-old was dealing with typical middle school issues and behaving accordingly. I’m sure readers with children this age are familiar with the moping around, ear buds in ear, negativity, and general disinterest in interaction. I hate to use the term “kids today” but I will. Kids today don’t have to make the type of interpersonal social connections because of the available technology. It’s just a fact of life which has caused some problems with their communication and development. That’s where our educational programs come in, and sadly most public schools do not introduce these types of drama or leadership programs until high school. That’s too late – we have lost an important window of opportunity.
My personal experience is not my only support for this argument, which I will explain below. But first, allow me to give a plug for Springer Theatre Academy, which I recently sort of forced my youngest to attend (remember the sullen 13-yr-old). My daughter was sold after her first year as well, but boys are different. I mean who says girls are the only ones who get moody? Anyway, after day one, he came home yakking away about his day. He wanted to spend time with us. Each day he came home with more enthusiasm. That weekend we had signed up to help with the Safe Kids Columbus event. He and his friend (also an Academy student), were manning a booth, and they were unsure of what to do. They said, “We’ll just use our improv skills.” We could not believe the way they presented the information on poisons in the household! You will be happy to know the information was not improvised, just how it was presented. I know the skills gained from this program (and others in the area) have helped him tremendously.
Personal stories are all great, but some people need more factual information in order to buy in to the importance of performing arts in our schools and in our communities. One has only to look around the uptown (or is is downtown) Columbus area to see that the theatre and music scene has helped drive the resurgence of the area. Within a few blocks of each other is Riverside Theatre Complex at CSU, River Center for the Performing Arts, and Springer Opera House. With those venues and entertainment offerings, other businesses have filled in the needs for restaurants, bars, and now even shopping. Some may say, which came first, sort of a chicken and egg scenario. However, since I have lived in the area, it appears the major venues were functioning first, so I would say for business, education, and commerce, the arts are essential.
Next I’ll focus on how performing arts can benefit individuals. As an educator, it seems every few years there is some new philosophy or push to improve education, mostly test scores. I’ve only been teaching for seven years, and we have already dispensed with the graduation exam and state standards, and are now focused on Common Core and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). There are benefits to many of the educational reform ideas, but too many are pushing aside or underfunding programs like drama and band. Students learn important skills through the arts that will help them succeed in academics and in life according to a Washington Post article by Valerie Strauss.
The article which references a book by Lisa Phillips, The Artistic Edge: 7 Skills Children Need to Succeed in an Increasingly Right Brain World, children learn creativity, confidence, problem solving, perseverance, focus, non-verbal communication, receiving constructive criticism, collaboration, dedication, and accountability through arts training. Those sure seem like important qualities for an employee, manager, or business owner. Specifically she says that being on time for rehearsals, being prepared with your part, and practicing and honing your skills teach responsibility and accountability. Students learn how to work with others in a cast or crew, to persevere in a task such as playing an instrument, and to be evaluated by a director or teacher and respond accordingly, making improvements where recommended. Sure some of these skills can be learned in an English or science classroom, but they will be secondary to the curriculum, not deliberate or focused enough.
I had the pleasure of teaching a creative language arts class to eighth graders a year ago, which was basically speech and drama skills mixed with theatre history and stage skills. It was a pretty big undertaking for a semester long class, and not all of the students were willing participants in the forced choice elective. One of the first things I did in an effort to convince them the course wasn’t a waste of time, was have them read an article about how this class would help them in any career they chose. I used an article from a blog by Tom Vander Well written in 2012 titled “10 Ways Being a Theatre Major Prepared Me for Success.” I loved his description of the how the learning experiences in these areas transferred to his career as a business consultant and owner. For example, improvisation (missed cues, lines, and entrances on stage) have helped him deal with clients when things didn’t go as planned or technology glitches that invariably arise. He also says that “a stage production is basically a business project.” Different teams work together to accomplish a task, in this case the performance in front of an audience.
The same article mentions working with limited budgets (and what theatre doesn’t have limitations) will teach students to be creative and imaginative getting results within certain restrictions. Of course dealing with different people and understanding the human condition will help you in life. “Theatre taught me how to appreciate, understand, and effectively communicate with a widely diverse group of human beings.” Vander Well also mentions learning the value of hard work and doing what needs to be done, whether that means painting and repainting flats, constructing walls out of chicken wire, or hawking tickets outside the student union. To me the most important skill he mentions is presentation. Being able to effectively communicate your message and stand confidently in front of a group of people is priceless. You learn that in theatre. Interested in reading more? See his entire entry.
This post could be more than you would ever want to read about why performing arts is important, but if you needed some support, hopefully this evidence can help. We are blessed to be in a geographic area that overall recognizes the value of the arts. The purpose of this blog is actually not to convince you, but to offer and promote what is available for involvement and exposure. But just in case a reader has a friend, co-teacher, principal, or spouse who is not supportive of the arts, feel free to use our blog to help convince him/her.